I didn't finish Hamilton's last door stopper, Night Without Stars. It was set within his 'Commonwealth' story world, which I hugely enjoyed, but this particular narrative side quest simply didn't appeal. I came to SALVATION then, with some misgivings. Thankfully, they were unfounded.
SALVATION isn't the pure space opera of the early Commonwealth Saga or the even earlier Night's Dawn trilogy, but it does offer a satisfying buffet of devious space aliens, big honking space guns, and futuristic world building. There's even a pretty decent terraforming/terrorism sub plot set in Australia.
Most of Hamilton's vividly imagined creations tend to revolve around one central technological conceit. In Night's Dawn its encoded consciousness (don't argue with me, it just is). In SALVATION it's portal technology. Stargates, if you like, but prosaic, almost banal stargates. Sure, they can let you walk between the stars, but they're also used for getting around locally on now defunct bus routes.
The portals are not the point of the story. They're the enabling architecture. They channel the stories of the main narrators towards a surprise ending that sets up a conventional—but for me quite exciting—sequel promising lots of devious space aliens getting splattered by big honking space guns.
Like Night Without Stars, SALVATION proceeds in two time periods, inviting the reader to speculate how one led to the other. In the earlier period, an ensemble cast of characters recalling some of the great Hollywood anthology films of the 1940s travel to a far-flung world in search of an alien artefact. One of them is an alien spy, and Hamilton's deft handling of the whodunnitry recalls some of the best Paula Myo cases from the Commonwealth.
The second seemingly self contained story arc is set hundreds of years later and could be thought of as a reimagined Ender's Game, as we follow a small cohort of children through ten years of education and training in preparation for battle with the above mentioned but unnamed devious alien threat. By the end of SALVATION Hamilton has threaded the two timelines together and pulled off a pretty decent surprise when revealing the identity of the spy.
I read this book while we travelled around Vietnam, usually getting through thirty or forty pages a night before crashing out, and finishing it on the plane as we flew home. It was compelling and ocasionally quite stunning as an imaginative tour de force. I enjoyed it so much that I feel like I should go back and give Night Without Stars another chance.